Let’s face it. Parenting is difficult at the best of times. It throws us daily challenges even when both the parents are in a happy relationship and working together to bring up the children. It is far harder when you cannot bear the site of the other parent, let alone want to talk to them or make difficult parenting decisions together.
In the past six years I have dealt with a variety of cases involving children. Many of these cases are heart-warming in the parent’s ability to put aside their differences and focus on their children’s well-being. Others, well…. as a mediator you cannot challenge, but you end up feeling very sorry for the children involved.
Below, I have put together the most common mistakes that separated parents make and explained why I believe they are mistakes. As always, and the law does reflect this, every family and every child is different. What might not work for one family, works very well for another. In addition to this there may be very good reasons that one of the below is being done as it benefits the child.
So this list is a generalisation, but see if you are making one of these top 10 parenting mistakes and before you place more guilt on yourself as a parent, console yourself that I made several of these myself when going through my divorce:
1) Asking the children to pass on messages to the other parent
“Can you tell your father that you have an extra ballet class on Thursday, so he can’t pick you up until Friday morning”
“Can you ask you dad for £50 for your school trip”
“Can you tell your mum that her solicitor needs to respond to my letter by next week or it is going to court”
All of these are genuine examples of messages that one parent has asked the child to pass on to the other. You may feel that the first two are fairly innocuous, which in themselves they are. However, passing messages through your child, however innocuous is a mistake. It puts a responsibility on the child to get the message passed in a timely and correct manner. It put too much responsibility on them, when they are adjusting to their new circumstances and it shows them that their parents do not communicate between themselves.
The above examples, were all from the same couple. What started off as passing messages about an extra ballet class soon turned into a message about solicitor’s letters and court. If you really cannot communicate between yourselves as parents, you can get a notebook and write it in. Your child can then take this with them when they stay with the other parent.
2) Interviewing your child when they return from the other parent
“Did you have a nice time?” “What did you eat?” “What is daddy’s new girlfriend like?” “Did daddy’s girlfriend stay over night?”
Interviews with children whose parent have been through a divorce or separation show one of the top things they hate is being interrogated about what they did when they stayed with the other parent.
There are several reasons they hate it. They hate feeling they may be betraying a trust in one of their parents. They may feel they have to give an answer that the parent asking them wants to hear…”No, it was horrible, as I missed you so much.” Children especially hate being asked about the new partner of a parent. Let your children tell them about matters themselves in their own time. You can ask them if they had a nice weekend, but let them tell you what they want to tell you, don’t ask them lots of questions. Your child will appreciate it.
3) Saying derogatory things about the other parent to them or in front of them
This is always a difficult one. Let’s take a philandering husband who ran off with his work colleague 20 years younger than him and now only sees his children when it suits him. You are heart broken, your life has been ripped apart and you have no idea how you are going to afford to pay for the children’s new school uniform, whilst your husband is in the Canaries enjoying some late summer sun with his new floozy….and you have to say nice things about him in front of the children? Well, yes. Polish your halo, remind yourself that this is just one of many sacrifices you make as a parent for the sake of your children and remember that when you say nasty things about one of their parents, you are also hurting the child.
4) Arguing in front of the children or physically fighting
Children say that their parents arguing is one of the things that stays with them for many years. The two people in the world who they love the most, visibly hate each other. It scares them and constant arguments can have a negative effect on their mental wellbeing, their school work, their ability to form relationships later in life and their general development. Agree never to argue in front of the children. Use mediation to resolve issues if need be and always check yourself, whether the thing you are arguing over is more important than the negative impact it is having on your child.
5) Ceasing child maintenance because you are angry or upset or not happy with the parenting arrangements
Many non-resident parents do this and it is wrong. The legal responsibility to make child maintenance payments is not dependant on the arrangement (or lack of an arrangement). As Judge Rinder says, “If you make them, you pay for them!” Children need to be fed, clothed, heated and housed. A judge will frown on the fact you have stopped payments because you are no longer being allowed to see the children. Continue the maintenance payments and hold the moral and legal higher ground. On the flip side, don’t punish your child by changing the arrangements because their father is not paying child maintenance. Remember Child Maintenance and the arrangements your child has to see the other parent are two very much different matters.
6) Thinking you have control over how the other parent chooses to parent the child when they are with them
It can be very difficult to let go of the control of your child, especially when they are young. You may have spent months getting them into a routine only for that routine to be cast aside as they get to stay up late at the other parent’s house, or fed junk food or allowed to watch videos they would not normally be allowed to watch at home. The trouble is, unless the child is at serious risk (the kind you would phone the police about) there is very little you can do to control what goes on when they are with the other parent. More so, trying to control what is outside of your control will just make you go mad. Try to relax and enjoy the time you have to yourself to focus on you, without worrying what your children are up to every minute. In an ideal world you will work together as parents to ensure continuity of routines, rules, and discipline. If you cannot then mediation can really help to establish these, but if all else fails, there is very little you can do about it, so stop trying to.
7) Dropping the child off at the bottom of the road as you can’t stand to see the other parent
Some parents do this, as they believe it is better for the child so they don’t see their parents arguing or see the parents upset. But it does have a negative effect on the child and it does show them that you are unable to communicate as parents. The children love you both and don’t want to have to walk 50 yards because their parents cannot bear to see each other. There are obviously exceptions with regards to domestic abuse.
8) Reporting the parent to the police or social services without establishing the facts
Of course, as a parent you should always raise a concern about the safety of your child. However using the police or child services to get back at you ex-partner or further your case at court is a dangerous and irresponsible thing to do. You do not want your child placed on the social service register for something that can be easily sorted out between the parents.
9) Not wanting the child to have a relationship with their new family
“I don’t mind if they see their dad this weekend, but not if his new partner is there.” It probably does not sit comfortably that your children will be spending the weekend with their father and his new partner, especially if the children are young and she may be the cause of your marriage breaking down. But the fact is that the more people who are positive in your children’s live, the more people who love them and care for them, the better for the child. Another time to polish your halo as a parent.
10) Not sharing toys, clothing or gifts
I have known cases where a child has to get changed in the car as the two sets of parents did not want ‘their’ clothes going to the other’s house. My ex-wife smoked and would return clothes to us cleaned, neatly folded and ironed only for us to have to wash them all over again as they stank of smoke!
Well-meaning friends and parents will give you gifts for the child but ask that they keep it at your house. How would you feel as an adult if you could not take your IPad out of the house, or had to change clothes half way when you visited your friend’s house? The clothes and toys belong to your child, not to anyone else. Let them enjoy them and take a favourite toy to the house if they want to.
Divorce Friend can help you reach a parenting plan that you can both move forwards with. Our divorce experts can give you suggestions on what to do based on their years of experience.
Call us now on 0330 999 0313 or visit one of our free divorce clinics in Caerphilly, Sutton or Woking.